Lawrence Toppman

Want to hear ‘Hamilton’ in Charlotte this year? It could happen ....

George Gray (end of table) has been leading Cold Reads Charlotte since 2003, most recently on Thursday mornings at Julia’s Cafe.
George Gray (end of table) has been leading Cold Reads Charlotte since 2003, most recently on Thursday mornings at Julia’s Cafe. Courtesy of George Gray

It’s just possible that “Hamilton” could come to Charlotte within the next 12 months – if you’re willing to do it yourself.

George Gray, who has led sessions for years where friends read plays aloud, has embarked on his grandest project. He aims to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Pulitzer Prizes by conducting “cold reads” of every winning play – including “Hamilton,” which earned the award this year.

Gray says an official with The Pulitzer Prizes foresaw no problem if the reading were free, and free is what Cold Reads Charlotte is all about. Readings are free to join or watch, and they free your mind of preconceptions about the ways to approach a play.

“I may give a little background, but I encourage people to discover for themselves,” he says. “They have the script ahead of time, so it’s like a book club devoted to drama: We read out loud, and we can stop any time to discuss or share ideas.

“We don’t cast according to type. You can be any character for a while, and then we swap around, so everyone gets a chance at a juicy part. A play onstage is a spectacle. But when you vocalize a script, it’s all about character and plot. And it’s good for the brain to read aloud.”

Gray kicks off his mega-read Monday at 7 p.m. in Hadley Theater at Queens University. He’s asking people to sign up at the Facebook page for that event but will be happy to see drop-ins for Jesse Lynch Williams’ “Why Marry?” After that, he’ll switch to his normal venue: Julia’s Cafe, where the group reads weekly at 10 a.m. on Thursdays. Some folks drop by as early as 9 to start a chat. (E-mail him at geoagray3@gmail.com to learn more.)

“The readings at Julia’s are not done mostly by theater people,” he says. “They’re retired engineers and schoolteachers who love literature. Part of my philosophy is that we’re all actors, all of the time; we’re different people when we’re around different people. Cold Reads lets us be in someone else’s shoes for a while.”

Gray launched this idea in 2003 at the Jewish Community Center. He moved Cold Reads to Theatre Charlotte, then Nova’s Bakery, then the Charlotte Art League. He landed at Julia’s four years ago and stayed there.

He’s excited about Cold Reads’ listing on the Pulitzer website. But he doesn’t want to be in charge of this sprawling concept by himself.

“Until now, this has been utterly impractical: You couldn’t get scripts legally, or you had to buy multiple copies,” he says. “Now scripts can be put online and downloaded. The Pulitzer people say their archives are open to the public for fair use of copyrighted material for noncommercial purposes, so this is something any group of friends can do.

“If this goes viral – and I’m a crackpot, so I think, ‘Why couldn’t it?’ – who knows what can happen? We might want to go to the theater more. We might celebrate humanity more. We might realize plays are as essential to life now as they have been for thousands of years.”

Toppman: 704-358-5232

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